Using incriminating Facebook postings and a tip from an informant, Anne Arundel County authorities have won convictions against two men for threatening two local judges.
Zachary Ryan Mitchell of Brooklyn Park and Justin Ray Ferrell of Curtis Bay pleaded guilty to threatening to injure a state official. The petty criminals, who officials say met at a drug treatment program, traded Facebook complaints about judges presiding over their respective cases. At one point, the conversation hinted at violence.
"I'll hit ur judge and u hit mine lol," Mitchell told Ferrell on Facebook, according to court documents.
As many Americans are finding out, nothing online is private. In this case, the online postings will land Mitchell and Farrell in prison for three years for their threats.
Anne Arundel County police say detectives read the postings after a confidential informant told them Mitchell had tried to meet with someone at a local park to buy a rifle, saying he needed it to kill Anne Arundel District Judge Danielle Mosley. Mosley had presided over a theft case involving Mitchell in 2012.
The informant was worried that Mitchell might carry out his plans because he owned other guns, according to charging documents. Mitchell later admitted to police that he was a member of the Dead Man Incorporated prison gang, officials said.
As police investigated Mitchell, they found the Facebook conversation, which was detailed in charging documents.
Mitchell said Mosley "can b a bitch." Ferrell replied, "Of course. They all r. if mynes tlkin crzy shes getting whacked."
Ferrell's complaints centered on Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Michele Jacklitsch. When Mitchell suggested that they "hit" each other's judges, Ferrell replied, "real tlk I was tthinkin we should do tht."
The two ended their online conversation after Ferrell suggested they shouldn't talk about it on Facebook. Mitchell said Ferrell should call him.
Police picked up Mitchell and Ferrell on open warrants. Both admitted to discussing killing the judges, though they said it was a joke, according to court documents.
Anne Arundel State's Attorney Anne Colt Leitess said criminals often post information regarding their activities on social media, and police and prosecutors can use those postings in court. While a Facebook posting on its own may seem like a joke, the fact that Mitchell had a gang affiliation, mental health issues and intentions to buy a gun made for "recipe for a really terrible situation," she said.
Threats are made against Anne Arundel judges every year or two, Leitess said, but they are generally not as serious as these.
"It's one thing to say something that you're mad at a judge for a sentence. It's another thing to start making an agreement with another person to take action," Leitess said.
The Maryland judiciary does not track how often judges are threatened or whether those cases are prosecuted, said spokeswoman Angelita Plemmer Williams.
Leitess said court officials worked with Anne Arundel County police and the sheriff's office to provide security for the judges as soon as the threats were known. Leitess praised police for quickly getting Mitchell and Ferrell into custody and for building solid cases against them.
Jacklitsch and Mosley could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Assistant State's Attorney Michael Dunty, who specializes in gang cases, prosecuted Mitchell and Ferrell.
The cases were heard Monday before Baltimore County Judge Dana Levitz, who was brought to Anne Arundel County for them.
Levitz sentenced Mitchell to three years in prison, with credit for 160 days already served. Mitchell was also sentenced to five years in prison with all but one year suspended for conspiracy to distribute suboxone while in jail. Suboxone is a drug used to treat addiction to opiates such as heroin and painkillers.
Levitz sentenced Ferrell to three years in prison, with credit for 159 days already served. Ferrell also was sentenced on a probation violation to six years with 491 days credited.